By delving into the differences between men’s and women’s sleep-wake cycle, a new study has gone some way to unpick the reasons why women are so much more likely to suffer from disrupted sleeping patterns and insomnia.
Researchers at McGill University in Canada asked 15 men and 11 women to spend 36 hours in the laboratory. Participants were invited to nap for one hour, then rise for an hour, while their melatonin levels, core body temperature, alertness and sleep hormones were measured.
The 11 women studied were at two different phases in their menstrual cycles, as sex hormones have previously been shown to alter sleeping patterns.
The study, which has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, came to the conclusion that women’s sleep cycles run ahead of men’s – meaning that they will start to feel sleepier earlier, and feel less alert at night time. So, if you’re going to bed at a similar time to a boyfriend or partner, then you’re trying to sleep at a point further into your body’s natural cycle. This makes drifting off – and staying asleep – more difficult than for a man. Sigh…
‘For a similar sleep schedule, we find that women’s body clocks cause them to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men,’ said Diane B. Bovin, a co-author of the study. ‘The reason is simple: their body clock is shifted to a more easterly time zone. This observed difference between the sexes is essential for understanding why women are more prone to disturbed sleep than men.’
‘Our results are helping us to understand, among other things, why women are more likely than men to wake up earlier in the morning and feel tired after a night’s sleep,’ she added. ‘As well, women are less alert at night than men.’
While the recipe for a perfect night’s sleep remains elusive, these latest findings certainly suggest that, where possible, it’s best to head off to bed as soon as you start feeling drowsy – rather than loading up ‘just one more’ episode of your latest Netflix fixation…